Radio review: Seeking new meaning in the Country of the Blind

Radio 4 Book of the Week offers witty and revelatory insight into story of sight loss

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann is an Irish News columnist and writes a weekly radio review.

Promotional graphic of man beside text saying The Country of the Blind by Andrew Leland and the BBC logo
The Country of the Blind by Andrew Leland was serialised as Book of the Week on Radio 4
The Country of the Blind, Radio 4
Things Fell Apart, Radio 4

“I’m going blind as I write this. It feels less dramatic than it sounds.”

So begins journalist Andrew Leland in a Book of the Week that is both witty and revelatory.

Leland was diagnosed 20 years ago with retinitis pigmentosa, which means he is losing his sight slowly. There is no cure. At the end of each consultation, he and the doctor talk about the “some day” of a stem cell or other answer.

His eye tests show up looking like ice cubes melting in hot water, he says. He is losing sight slowly, drip by drip. He puts a cup down for a moment and it disappears. When he finally finds it, it is still there in plain sight.

His eye tests show up looking like ice cubes melting in hot water, he says. He is losing sight slowly, drip by drip

But Leland is formidable. He is not accepting blindness as a visual death sentence. He will never be native to blindness as those that are born blind but is, he says, slowly becoming a naturalised citizen in the country of the blind.

He has many questions. How will he write, read and work, appreciate art or experience his son growing up?

The club of the disabled is not one anyone wants to join, he observes, but then again, the club of family can be similar.

This is no pity memoir – it’s witty and thought-provoking as Andrew looks back to how his sight loss began as a teenager and looks forward with determination, seeking a new sense of meaning in facing the world undiminished, as a blind person.

Promotional graphic showing Jon Ronson beside text reading Things Fell Apart
Jon Ronson presents Things Fell Apart on BBC Radio 4

From an addictive Book of the Week to an equally addictive series.

Jon Ronson’s Things Fell Apart draws you in. The subject is battles in the culture wars.

He’s a gifted story teller and holds back for the punch line – the moment that will make you gasp.

He appears warm, affable but he’s razor sharp too.

“We’re coming after you, honey,” is the story of how a chance meeting in a yacht club in the 2000s between a bar tender and a wealthy couple whose daughter had a mystery disease ended with the creation of the first great Covid conspiracy theory.

These are bizarre and unexpected stories with human beings right at the heart.

They tell of moments and events that drop like a pebble in a pond and send out ripples that surge into tsumanis.